5 Incredible Places to visit in Guatemala, Central America
Creating Travelista has taken me to new countries and new corners of the world that I would have never dreamt of going before it existed. The novelty of that will never wear off for me. When the guys from Visit Central America got in touch to invite me on a press trip to Guatemala and Belize, I had to re-read the email 3 times to believe it.
This trip excited me for many reasons;
- Central America is a part of the world I have never been before
- I would get to visit 2 totally new countries in 1 trip (Guatemala and Belize)
- I would get to go away with a fun group of fellow bloggers (Jen from She Gets Around, Scott from Intrepid Escape, Emily from Emily Luxton Travels and Fiona from Time2Gossip).
To set the scene, Guatemala is a Central American country that borders Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. It’s best known for its steep volcanos, vast rainforests and ancient Mayan ruins. After doing a bit of research, it sounded like the perfect ingredients for a Travelista adventure, and boy did it deliver.
The tourist board were responsible for putting together our entire travel itinerary. Because we only had 5 nights and 4 days in total before crossing the border into Belize, it was their job to make sure we saw all of the highlights of Guatemala. This travel itinerary includes all of the highlights of Guatemala, however we only stayed 1 night in each place. If you’re thinking of following this route, I would recommend going at a slower pace and spending a few nights at each location. Here is the ultimate Guatemala travel itinerary…
Fly in to Guatemala City
We flew with United Airlines from London to Houston (9.5 hours) and then took a second flight from Houston to Guatemala City (2.5 hours). We were met at the airport by our fantastic tour guide Martin from Marstam Tours, who stayed with us for the whole time we were in Guatemala.
Apart from a few museums, Guatemala City doesn’t have all that much to offer in terms of tourism and sightseeing. It’s also not the safest place to be in Guatemala, so we stayed overnight at the Raddisson Guatemala City and moved on straight away the next morning.
Our first destination of the trip was Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan highlands, known for it’s colourful Mayan lakeside villages and water sport activities. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is framed by 3 imposing volcanoes.
We all piled in the van ready for the 2.5 hour road trip and to take in a first glance of the sights, sounds and smells of Guatemala. The roads were bustling with cars, taxis, scooters and the famous Guatemalan chicken buses. So colourful and imposing you can’t miss them.
The landscape gradually became more lush and mountainous as we made our way to Panajachel, a lively town on the banks of Lake Atitlan.
From ‘Pana’, we caught a long boat across the river to the traditional town of San Juan La Laguna, where we had our first taste of freshly ground Guatemalan coffee. The weather was overcast and humid, so I went for an iced latte to cool down. So delicious!
Melvin guided us through the town and took us to a cotton making cooperative called Casa Flor Ixaco, which had the most beautiful handmade trinkets, clothing and souvenirs.
After exploring San Juan La Laguna we hopped back on to the long boat for lunch at Posada de Santiago near the town of Santiago Atitlan.
We spent the night at Hotel Atitlan, which was my favourite hotel of the entire trip. This charming boutique hotel is located right on the lake in a breathtaking location. With deep wood interiors, rustic furnishings and beautifully manicured gardens, it’s a lush boutique escape in the Guatemalan highlands.
On the evening of our stay the heavens opened and we were caught in a tropical downpour, which only made the setting even more atmospheric. I couldn’t recommend this hotel enough.
The next morning we drove from Lake Atitlan to Antigua, Guatemala’s most iconic, historic and touristic town. Antigua is actually the oldest town in the whole of the Americas and dates back to 1541. The colonial town has a fascinating history and is a buzzing fusion of Spanish and Mayan culture.
Antigua was definitely my favourite part of Guatemala and I would have loved a few more days to explore it. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’d probably still recognise it, with its colourful pastel walls, cobbled streets and the famous yellow arch of Santa Catalina.
Our guesthouse, Hotel El Meson de Maria, was equally as charming as the town itself, which was located right around the block from the Santa Catalina Arch. The location was amazing, the rooms were characterful and the central outdoor courtyard and roof terrace made it a place you could really relax. Look out for my City Guide to Antigua Guatemala coming to the blog soon!
Isle de Flores
After spending the night in Antigua we drove back to Guatemala City to catch an internal flight to Mundo Maya International Airport in the north west of Guatemala. The airport is located a 15 minute drive from the popular backpacker destination of Flores, which was our next stop of the tour.
We stayed on Isla de Flores (simply translated to Island of Flowers), which is a popular base for travellers planning to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. Isla de Flores is surrounded by water and home to plenty of friendly and low-key guest houses. The coloured walls and cobbles are reminiscent of Antigua but much less well-known. Cocktail bars and restaurants line the waterfront, attracting locals and travellers alike.
We spent the night at Isla de Flores Hotel before heading off to Tikal early next morning. The drive from Flores to Tikal took about 2 hours
Tikal was once a powerful Mayan empire that dated back to 800 B.C. Today, Tikal is now a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of more than 4,000 Mayan ruins over 16km2 of Guatemalan jungle. Also known as ‘the lost world’, Tikal was deserted and became lost in the vast jungle until it was rediscovered in 1877.
There are 6 major temples which are all incredibly preserved, some of which you can even climb up. Being at Tikal feels like you’ve just stepped into the film set of Indiana Jones, and you may well see Lara Croft swing past on a jungle vine at any moment.
For the rest of our time in Central America we crossed the border into Belize to spend 2 nights at Hopkins Beach. Look out for my Belize post coming soon!
Exploring Guatemala was one of the most inspiring and intrepid travel experiences I have ever had. It’s a country of colour, culture and so much spirit and looking back on this post I can’t believe how much we squeezed in in just 4 days. If you’re thinking of visiting Guatemala for your self, make sure all of the places above are on your list. They are the absolute highlights of Guatemala, and each place is completely different to the next.
What did you think of my Guatemala travel itinerary? Are you planning a trip here or have you already been? I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you enjoyed this post please leave me a comment in the box below x
Disclaimer: My trip to Guatemala was provided as part of a press trip with Visit Central America. All views are my own.